Going to Ninevah (the hard way)

Hebrew Jonah

Picture found at Tanakh through world art

Have you ever heard the voice of God?

Has God ever said “Get up tomorrow morning & go to Ninevah” ?

Maybe not, but I’ll bet you’ve felt that nagging feeling about helping someone out; apologizing to someone; or going the extra step on a task or project.

That’s the same voice of God – the divine “nudge” – that spoke to Jonah, telling him to arise and go to Ninevah.

Most of us feel it first in the negative, or reverse direction – often as young children and most definitely as adolescents. It’s that strong almost-audible voice that says:

Now you KNOW you shouldn’t go there / do that …”

It is also as young children or adolescents that we often learn about Jonah as told in the Hebrew Scriptures and Old Testament.

Jonah heard the voice of God tell him to “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 

Jonah didn’t want to go to Ninevah and he made a decision to turn around and head so far away from Ninevah that maybe even God wouldn’t be able to find him. He went to Joppa and found passage on a ship headed to Tarshish.

Funny thing about people that God speaks to: they can’t hide.

God “…hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.”

Sailors are, by definition or custom, a superstitious lot. When this storm blew up out of nowhere, it was soon decided that this last-minute passenger might have something to do with it. When they cast lots (fortune telling, of sorts) the lots fell on Jonah and he ended up confessing that he was a Hebrew, and was running away from God.

They were beside themselves as the storm was tremendous and they didn’t want to be responsible for his death, but they had no idea how to survive and asked Jonah how to calm the sea. He told them that nothing short of throwing him overboard would help, so they tossed him into the raging waves.

The story might have ended here. Jonah made this disaster, he ignored God’s request and blatantly went in the opposite direction. Now he’s created a colossal mess and is about to be consumed by it. Sound familiar to anyone?

But God was not done with Jonah. Yes, Jonah had ignored God’s message, but God was not giving up on him and would not forsake him, or leave him in his hour of need.

17And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Jonah ends up in the belly of a whale (great fish) – not a great place to hang out, I imagine but safe from drowning. Eventually the fish vomits Jonah out on dry land.

This is such great imagery, and a great spiritual lesson for kids and adults! Here are a couple of the lessons we learn from this story of Jonah:

  1. When you put your foot on the spiritual path, you can’t continue doing things “business as usual” – our actions have consequences and sometimes they’re dire.
  2. We can’t hide from the Divine.

Have you ever noticed that once you begin to read and follow a spiritual path, you can’t go back to your old ways?

This same concept – this counsel to stay connected to Source, or God, appears in many wisdom texts. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that the way out of the cycle of karmic birth and death is NOT to avoid the tasks required of him (i.e. the instructions or nudges from the Divine) but to perform these duties without a selfish attachment.

Krishna knows that Arjuna can easily get caught up in his own life, and actions and begin to act out of selfish motives – which would keep him in the endless loop of the cycles of life and death.

When Arjuna asks Krishna what binds us to our selfish ways, Krishna tells him that anger and selfish desires are the greatest enemies: they are the destructive powers that can compel us to wander away from our purpose. In the same way Jonah said “Oh I don’t think so,…” when God told him to go to Ninevah and wandered away from his divine purpose.

We learn from Jonah and the Gita that following our own self-centered urges, and ignoring the voice of God has consequences. In the 21st century – especially in America – we live in a very self-focused world. Does this mean that we are all doomed?

Not quite.

This where the rest of the tale of Jonah is instructive.

Jonah defied the instructions God gave him; he ignored that Divine urge and ran in the opposite direction.

But God did not say, “Oh well, Jonah – I ask for a little help and you run off, so good luck dealing with the consequences of your actions!

Instead, God sends a great fish/whale to save Jonah from a certain death by drowning in the raging storm – a mess that he created by running away. The greatest lesson in this story is that we are not ever cut off from the Divine – even when our selfish and foolish ways should mean the end of us.

We may cause ourselves some rough seas. We may experience a close call and spend time in a really awful place,… but we are never cut off from the Divine – and there is always a way back.

In the belly of the whale, Jonah recognizes his folly and calls out to God. We are not cut off from the Divine unless we choose – Jonah chose to reconnect.

Wayne Dyer talked about that connection using the metaphor of the trolley strap in his work on the Power of Intention. He spoke of reconnecting to Source being like reaching up and grabbing onto that trolley strap.

Whether we choose to envision grabbing the trolley strap, or praying from inside the belly of a smelly, giant fish – we are well-served when we remember what Ernest Holmes taught about the voice of God.

“… Spirit is always with us, if we would but sense Its presence”  ~ Ernest Holmes

In the New Testament, Jesus told his disciples, “…lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world but there is perhaps no greater symbolism of the omnipresence of Spirit than that of the whale, or great fish that plucked Jonah from the depths of the sea.

It’s a strong story to remind us that no matter how colossal the mess we create in our lives; no matter how desperate the circumstances appear “… Spirit is always with us, if we would but sense Its presence“. 

And so it is.

(C) 2017 Practitioner's Path

Here’s the Kids Sheet – Jonah and the Whale (kids sheets) – for the story of Jonah

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